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Barnes & Noble nixes Black History Month series amid major backlash: 'Classics in blackface'

When inclusivity backfires

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Barnes & Noble is under fire after plans to launch a series of books with "diverse" covers to honor Black History Month.

After some social media users called the initiative "classics in blackface," the bookseller nixed its plans for the launch.

What are the details?

The big box bookseller teamed up with Penguin Random House publisher to release 12 classic novels including "The Wizard of Oz" and "Moby Dick" with a twist: "inclusive" and "diverse" covers called "Diverse Editions."

AM New York Metro reported, "Each title had five culturally diverse custom covers designed to ensure the recognition, representation, and inclusion of various multiethnic backgrounds reflected across the country. The new covers are a part of a new initiative to champion diversity in literature."

You can see some of the book covers below.

The initiative was to go live on Wednesday, but the retailer canceled the campaign after outcry.

In an online statement, Barnes & Noble said, "The Diverse Editions event at our @BNFifthAvenue location originally scheduled for this evening has been cancelled. Please see our statement."

A portion of the statement said, "We acknowledge the voices who have expressed concerns about the Diverse Editions project at our Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue store and have decided to suspend the initiative."

The statement added that "diverse" book covers are a poor substitute for showcasing the works of "black voices or writers of color."

"Diverse Editions presented new covers of classic books through a series of limited-edition jackets, designed by artists hailing from different ethnicities and backgrounds," the statement continued. "The covers are not a substitute for black voices or writers of color whose work and voices deserve to be heard."

Here are some of the more interesting reactions

  • "They could have Googled, chosen a dozen books by actual Black authors that are classics & sent those out with fresh covers & a big event. Add in bringing in contemporary Black authors to discuss these works & the whole thing is a win. They didn't do the easy or logical thing."
  • "It's just the classics in blackface."
  • "This fake diversity nonsense (where they replace white characters with people of color) is disgusting. It is not sincere or a solution. NEW STORIES BY PEOPLE OF COLOR ABOUT PEOPLE OF COLOR is the solution. WE get to tell OUR stories! Stop USING us and GET OUT OF THE WAY!"
  • "Jesus. Slapping cartoon POC on books by white folks when the words within those books don't promote anything but the white narrative isn't diversity. Diversity is giving POC equal opportunity to be published in a predominately white marketplace. Do better."
One last thing…
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